Whitesburg KY

The creepy debate over SCHIP

Some lawmakers hope to kill children's insurance program



One of the less pleasant debates in Washington has been over SCHIP. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program covers children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own coverage. In other words, it’s for the working stiffs.

Both houses of Congress have passed bills that would expand SCHIP coverage. President Bush promises a veto and has sent out his helpers to smear the popular legislation.

Writing in the Louisville Courier Journal, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell called it “a giant leap toward government run health care” that also lets adults “leech” off a program designed for children. By “adults,” he means kids up to the age of 25.

Could this be the same Mitch McConnell who periodically emits roars of approval for the socialized insurance scheme known as Medicare? As for the expensive new Medicare drug benefit, McConnell’s biggest beef centered on Democratic efforts to save billions by having the government negotiate for lower prices. If only the SCHIP bill had included a way to enrich drug companies ….

Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan complains that “there’s nothing in this bill that stops states from covering illegal aliens.” (Yes, just like there’s nothing stopping the Bush administration from enforcing the immigration laws.)

Actually, the SCHIP legislation bars illegal immigrants from joining. Sullivan was referring to a provision that let states change rules on required documentation. This was deemed necessary because many of the applicants, largely poor whites and African- Americans, couldn’t find original birth certificates and don’t have passports. In any case, Social Security numbers will still be required.

Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert, the former House speaker, enlarged on this theme by arguing that the benefits allegedly going to illegal immigrants were being taken away from the elderly. Like many of his Republican colleagues, he’s sore that the bill cuts overpayments to private Medicare HMOs. (These plans have been receiving an average 12 percent more than the cost of care in traditional Medicare.)

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told PBS’s “NewsHour” that the legislation would put families earning $80,000 on “public assistance.” The reality is that few families making that much would qualify. New York State wants a waiver to cover families of four making up to about $80,000 because the cost of living in New York City can be extraordinarily high. Nearly twothirds of the apartments for sale are listed for over $450,000 – and that’s in the Bronx!

Asked the inevitable question about why expanding government run SCHIP is bad and expanding government-run Medicare is good, Leavitt responded that Medicare “was focused on those who are in need.”

No, it wasn’t. It was focused on those over 65. Some if not most members of that group are in need, but Medicare covers senior citizens making $80,000 a week. Why don’t Republicans suggest an $80,000-a-year cutoff for Medicare benefits? Secretary Leavitt, are you there?

The legislation does rely too much on massive increases in tobacco taxes. America’s largely low-income smokers shouldn’t have to carry that freight.

Another valid concern about the SCHIP expansion is that it would prompt some families to drop private coverage. There are ways states can deter this, but in the end, if parents can obtain better coverage in the government program at less cost, that’s not so terrible. And shouldn’t families of moderate means be able to get coverage at least equal to that given the poor? Of course, the “crowd-out” argument could have been applied just as easily to Medicare.

Heaven forfend that some barely middle-class families get in on a government program to insure their children. Is this what compassionate conservatism has come to? Yuck.

©2007 The Providence Journal Co.

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